Headin’ South, 1962, for My Baptism by Fire
At age 9, a kid from a liberal Jewish family who are driving south on US 41 from Chicago to Miami with mom, and Aunt Minnie and Grandma Ida in tow to visit Aunt Celia and Uncle Harry. On the road, I had my Baptism by Fire to bigotry, hatred, segregation, billboards, bathrooms, restaurants, “nigra this, Jewboy that,” being chased away for unwittingly taking a drink from the “colored” water fountain. “Boy, you drink here from this white one!”
Daddy trying to explain it away to me as “ignorance,” and “stupid people.” End of lesson.
For five more years, I sleep in safe, broad-minded Chicago. Then, my nascent social conscience is awakened courtesy of Walter Cronkite. CBS News intrudes into our white middle-class homes with reports of Sheriff Bull Connor blasting innocent black folks with fire hoses. And, young, idealistic civil rights workers are murdered in MY America, and, and, and . . . Yeah, now I remember the script that was written for me as our Rambler chugged down US 41. Obscene billboards. “Nigra, don’t let the sun set on your head in this town!”
It took another decade for me to realize that prejudice, segregation, and racism in MY Chicago had been equally hateful. Hizzonor da Mare was denying African-Americans their political and social status in ways more heinous than a drink from the fountain. But of course, we know that only happens in the tattered Old South.
So now what has changed after clubbing, and gassing, and shooting?It’s 2018. Demonic forces are poised to invade MY America. Remember the Talmud’s adage, “Go out and take a look at what the people are saying.”
WILUDI (Marc Howard Wilson) is a retired rabbi who writes from Greenville, SC